Pics with Famous People


Buzz Aldrin (2000)

As an undergraduate, I got a partial scholarship from the Mercury Seven Scholarship Foundation, later renamed the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. One of the perks (other than the scholarship $) is that each year I’m invited back to hang out with the astronauts. I did this three times in the early 2000s, and on my first visit I got to meet Buzz Aldrin (Gemini 12, Apollo 11).

We spent some time talking about the right way to go to Mars. And he signed a poster for me, of him lifting off on Apollo 11.


Tom Hanks (2002)

The second time I went to hang out with the astronauts was for the IMAX premiere of Apollo 13, at Kennedy Space Center. Partway through the reception, Tom Hanks came out with a head of steam and worked the room. We ended up talking, and he told me that he failed astronomy in junior college. I asked him if he ever wonders how far he might have gone in life had he only applied himself a little more…

But the real takeaway is…I now have only two degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Had Tom (we’re on a first name basis now…) and I been in a movie together, my Bacon number would be 2. Alas, my Bacon number is only 3…via my movie with William Shatner!


Ron Howard (2002)

At the same event, I also met Opie, who directed Apollo 13. He was much quieter, trying to stay out of the limelight — a genuinely nice guy.


Jim Lovell (2002)

I’ve met Jim Lovell (Gemini 7, Gemini 12, Apollo 8, Apollo 13) three times. The first time was as an undergraduate at Penn State, after he gave a public lecture. He directed the Mercury Seven Scholarship Foundation, so I let him know that I was one of his awardees and thanked him. He signed my copy of his book, Apollo 13, on which the movie is based.

Since then, I’ve met him twice in Florida, including here at the IMAX premiere.


Sally Ride (2003)

I went to another Astronaut Scholars event in 2003. There was a dinner, and I was placed at a table with Sally Ride (STS-7, STS-41G), the first American woman in space, and her family. We spoke about the work she did with encouraging young women to go into science.


Story Musgrave (2003)

After the dinner, I bumped into six-time Space Shuttle veteran Story Musgrave (STS-6, STS-5F, STS-33, STS-44, STS-61, STS-80).

Nice ‘vette, Story!


Bob Crippen (2003)

The next day we had a more informal dinner, at Yen Yen’s in Cocoa Beach. This was the go-to restaurant of the Mercury Seven, and among other things is famous for Alan Shepard’s “Moon Shot” — a tasty but fairly potent beverage that he invented there back in the day. We were indulging in them at my table, which somehow morphed into a drinking game dependent upon me reciting Dr. Seuss from memory — I had a one-year old at the time, so I was killing it.

By the end, half the restaurant had gotten into it, including five-time Space Shuttle veteran Bob Crippen (STS-1, STS-7, STS-41C, STS-41G), who came over to see what all the hubbub was about.


John Glenn (2003)

Near the end of the dinner at Yen Yen’s, I got to meet John Glenn (Mercury 6, STS-95), the first American to orbit the Earth, and later a senator from Ohio. I had actually bumped into him earlier in the evening at the hotel. Or rather, my son, John, did.

John had just turned one, and was all about escaping. We were in the hotel lobby and when he saw the automatic front door slide open, he decided to make a run for it! His only obstacle was two guys having a conversation between him and the door — John Glenn and Buzz Aldrin. He ran right between them, stepping on both of their feet in the process.

Now that John is (much) older, I like to remind him that he stepped on a foot that stepped on the moon :)


Al Gore (2007)

In 2007, I applied to be one of Al Gore’s climate ambassadors, and was invited to do a few days of training with him in Nashville. I met him after an event dinner, and we actually spoke about Keck interferometry of all things.

Later that evening, I sat within arms reach of him at B.B. King’s Blues Club, drinking beers and listening to music. I remember thinking what an amazing country this is. One day this guy is first in line to the presidency. The next he’s having drinks in a bar with people like me.


Neil deGrasse Tyson (2012)

Neil DeGrasse Tyson came to campus in 2012. They were supposed to do some PR photos in front of the planetarium, but it was raining. They asked if they could bring him up to my space instead, and this photo was my price of admission ;)

It’s me, my then-graduate student Justin Moore, Neil, and my then-postdoc Aaron LaCluyzé.